Monday Night RAW in Philly: The Road to Wrestlemania Begins

Coming off of Royal Rumble, my biggest gripe was with how, exactly, the WWE is going to use Ronda Rousey. I’m a little put off by the potential for it to be gimmicky, although I’ve heard a lot of counter-arguments about this ultimately being good for the women’s division. I relented prior to RAW last night, but watching them open with essentially a slideshow of headlines they made when Rousey showed up did NOT inspire confidence. You’re gonna brag about Yahoo! Sports talking about you? Really? Still, this edition of RAW did not include Rousey, so we’re going to have to wait a little longer to see how she figures into everything.

Instead of getting Rousey, Stephanie McMahon starts the show to talk about the historic all-women royal rumble match from the night previous, and its winner, Asuka. She still hasn’t made a decision as to which Women’s Champion she’d like to challenge at Wrestlemania, but Stephanie warns her she may want to deliberate a while longer: RAW’s champion Alexa Bliss is going to be defending her title at the next pay-per-view in the first all-women Elimination Chamber. This very much feels like a vehicle for Ronda Rousey, but I’m into it. Asuka is cut off again before she can decide – this time by Sasha Banks, who says she’s “Ready for Asuka.” Stephanie sets up a match between the two women for later in the evening.

Cut to a somewhat exciting announcement that there are going to be 6 Last Man Standing qualifying matches for the men’s elimination chamber. The winner of that match will face Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Tonight’s matchups are Kane v Strowman, Matt Hardy v Elias, and Finn Balor v John Cena. I’m really only feeling the heat between two out of three of these matches, if we’re being honest. Can you imagine Elias OR Matt Hardy going up against Lesnar at Wrestlemania? I very much cannot.

Oh, and Roman invoked his obligatory rematch clause to face The Miz once again for the title. Yawn!

I honestly can’t understand why they put this match first, but we start the qualifying matches off with Kane V Strowman. Immediately Strowman is pulling tables and chair from under the ring and setting them up. You’d probably think you’re going to get some good Kane-through-a-table action, and on that front Strowman doesn’t necessarily disappoint. There’s a lot of mild carnage, and then Strowman goes for the announcer’s table. But instead of just destroying the table – or even just trying to lift the whole thing up – Strowman straight up lifts the ENTIRE PLATFORM the table was on, and throws it, including the table and a couple chairs, on top of Kane.

The ref literally begs someone to ring the bell and Strowman wins. Corey Graves asks “that’s a human being, what did you just do?” and Strowman more or less answers “I did my job.” This whole match and follow up segment was full of incredible energy, and I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief and buy into the action. It was honestly TOO exciting, though, because that most of the rest of RAW was lackluster in comparison.

Like, why follow this up with the Elias v Matt Hardy match? It wasn’t much of a match. The most exciting thing to happen here is that Bray Wyatt’s creepy little video pops on and distracts Hardy just enough for Elias to knock him down and pin him. After, Bray Wyatt appears over the screen and laughs maniacally.

There is then a VERY abrupt cut to The Miz shooting a video of himself talking about how special and awesome he is and maybe he says something about Roman being unfit to lick his boots. Maybe I made that up but he’s probably said it before. It really feels like this match takes forever to get started, and I found myself rolling my eyes at The Miztourage being ringside because they honestly feel like more of a distraction than they do an actual nuisance. I end up eating those words later when they interrupt the match to help Miz get the victory, but it’s also very par for the course at this point. Miz is a great wrestler, and Roman gets some good punches in that actually seem to make the audience go crazy, but week after week, I just find myself caring less and less about what Roman Reigns gets himself up to.

Next up is The Revival v Rhyno and Heather Slater. It was exciting to see a tag match that isn’t The Bar v Rollins and Jordan, so I tried to get into this. The Revival won and then cut a weird in-ring promo.

Oh, speaking of The Bar: Here they are against Titus Worldwide. Still, it’s a deviation from the norm so I’ll take it. The Bar retain the titles they won the night before at Royal Rumble.

The Dudley Boyz are getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame! Oh, and also Goldberg. But they air a pretty exciting video package about the Dudleys that’s for sure worth watching.

Maybe I’m still feeling the excitement and adrenaline surrounding the inaugural all-women Rumble, because I was more pumped for the Banks v Asuka match than any match at RAW, and I really don’t think it disappointed. There’s a lot of attention being paid to Asuka’s undefeated streak right now, and with that comes a “Will this be the match that breaks it?” narrative that I think is going to follow her for a while. I’m into it though, because Asuka is a dynamic personality and a great performer who can genuinely make you feel like she’s coming close to losing without making the whole thing seem too dramatic. Banks repeatedly tries to make Asuka submit with her Bank Statement, but in the end Asuka rolls it into her Asuka Lock and Banks taps out instead. A highlight of this match: Banks tries to fly over the top rope at Asuka; instead, Asuka kicks her in the face and Banks falls over the ropes, landing pretty much head-first on the ground.

And now for the final qualifying match: Balor v Cena. Balor’s got a bit of a bone to pick with Cena after he eliminated him from the Royal Rumble the night before, and both of them want to go to Wrestlemania badly. This match is full of some impressive athleticism and a lot of endurance. It’s one of those matches where you keep thinking it’s about to end, but it somehow only gets more amped up. There’s a point at which Cena lifts Balor completely up on his shoulders and you’re like “HERE IT IS” but it goes on for like, ten more minutes after that. It really felt like it could have gone either way; both of them seem equally deserving and equally likely in that elimination chamber, but in the end it’s John Cena who gets the drop on Balor and will get his shot at Wrestlemania.

An overall decent episode with some stellar matches that didn’t quite hold onto the excitement it brought within the first half hour.